Monday, June 28, 2004

Information wants to be free 

(Courtesy Lew Rockwell.) The New York Times reports that more research is being published via the web.
The high subscription cost of prestigious peer-reviewed journals has been a running sore point with scholars, whose tenure and prominence depend on publishing in them. But since the Public Library of Science, which was started by a group of prominent scientists, began publishing last year, this new model has been gaining attention and currency within academia.

More than money and success is at stake. Free and widespread distribution of new research has the potential to redefine the way scientific and intellectual developments are recorded, circulated and preserved for years to come.

"Society pays for science," said Dr. Nicolelis, whose article in the October issue of PLoS got worldwide attention. "We have the technology, we have the expertise. Why is it that the only thing that has remained the same for 50 years is the way we publish our results? The whole system needs overhaul."

At the big-sticker end are publications like The Journal of Comparative Neurology, for which a one-year institutional subscription has a list price of $17,995. Access to Brain Research goes for $21,269, around the price of a Toyota Camry XLE.

According to the Association of Research Libraries, journal prices went up 215 percent from 1986 to 2003, while the consumer price index rose 63 percent.
In my field of economics, there have always been options, formalized by the Social Science Research Network which makes many working paper and published paper available to researchers. This builds on the tradition in economics of getting working papers out quickly to possible reviewers and collaborators (and to stake out a claim to an idea before you have to go through the peer review process.) Open source publishing in the field is being researched by David D. Friedman at Santa Clara. Question to the readers: What benefit is gained from not letting information be free? What is the value added by having and Elsevier or Kluwer produce journals and sell them at very high prices? And why, do you suppose, do libraries continue to pay those prices?